The isolated old farmhouse where Black Stone Cherry first practised is proudly framed on the sleeve. But this symbol of southern home comfort is bathed in grey, Gothic light, and the surrounding trees are buffeted like there’s a storm coming. That’s about where Edmonton, Kentucky’s finest are at on this follow-up to Magic Mountain’s UK Top 5 success.
In a deliberate return to their roots, it was recorded at producer David Barrick’s studio near their home town, just like their self-titled 2005 debut (though the studio had moved buildings). But this is a heavy, dark record, owing little to the rangy swing of their Allmans and Skynyrd heritage. Instead, it’s hard rock for the hard world they find around them.
The thick fuzz of guitars is at the metal end of grunge, impact and volume kept almost oppressively in the red. But once you settle into Kentucky’s MO, the band’s songwriting strengths and musical reach are still here.
The Way Of The Future is their mission statement, decrying ‘all these pocket politicians’, just wanting some truth in a dirty world. But their solutions are more mystical than your average Trump voter, informed by Chris Robertson’s depression and Christian salvation prior to Magic Mountain, and his keen interest in the blues’ rural mythology.
In Our Dreams accordingly tries to reach past the physical world, Robertson’s Vedder-esque vocal suggesting that when life becomes overwhelming you ‘drown right here with me’. There’s a lot of death in these songs, but more hope.
These southern rockers with CND signs on their instruments also play the most rampaging, from-the-gut version of Edwin Starr’s War since Springsteen’s. Robertson sings, ‘Who wants to die?’ with a gravelly soul holler, while his reliably concise and inventive lead guitar surges and whines.
A flair for country storytelling is Black Stone Cherry’s most southern quality. Cheaper To Drink Alone is a cautionary honky-tonk tale of being burnt out and busted open ‘like a bank robber’ by a woman who seemed like a good idea at the time.
And The Rambler is something else, an instant country classic that Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson would be proud to own. It’s a dying troubadour’s apology to the daughter he barely knows, the result of a night when ‘I played a pretty southern girl right out of her dress.’ This acoustic heartbreaker sets off the preceding thunder perfectly.
FINAL VERDICT: 8⁄10